03/02/2016, 13.54
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Pakistan remembers martyr Shahbaz Bhatti. His brother Paul: He defeated the ideology of evil

by Jibran Khan

Masses and celebrations were held across the country for the Catholic minister, killed five years ago by Islamic fundamentalists. First testimonies collected for the opening of the diocesan process. First openings by Islamic leaders for review of the blasphemy laws.  Speaking to AsiaNews his brother Paul’s personal memory.

Islamabad (AsiaNews) - "The memory of Shahbaz Bhatti, his work for the poor, the weak, and service in the country still loom large, particularly among young people, even those who never knew him. This, after some time, it is perhaps the greatest legacy of my brother not only for Christians, but for all of Pakistan” says  Paul Bhatti former Federal Minister for National Harmony and leader of the All Pakistan Minorities Alliance (APMA), commenting on the fifth anniversary of the death of Shahbaz.

Churches in Pakistan celebrated masses, prayer vigils and special functions to honor the memory of the Catholic politician, massacred by Islamic extremists for having fought in favor of minorities and promoted changes to the blasphemy laws to stem the abuses.

Shahbaz Bhatti, a Catholic minister for religious minorities, was killed on the morning of March 2, 2011 on his way to work, his body riddled with thirty bullets. Two months earlier the governor of Punjab Salman Taseer he had been killed who, together with Bhatti, campaigned to save the life of Asia Bibi, a Christian mother of five sentenced to death - even if innocent - for blasphemy.

To coincide with the fifth anniversary of his death, the Church of Pakistan is collecting testimonies for the opening of the diocesan process that will lead to the Bhatti being declared a "martyr". The process involves different Pakistani bishops, including Msgr. Joseph Coutts - today in Karachi and president of the Episcopal Conference - then bishop of Faisalabad diocese, where the Catholic politician was from.

The words of Shahbaz Bhatti in a video message recorded a week before he was killed still resonate with Pakistani Catholics. It was on a cold early spring morning that he said: "I am ready to die for the cause  as I have always lived for my community ... for which I am willing to die to defend their rights. I am ready to die for my ideals. "

Recalling the work of his brother, Paul Bhatti - who for a certain period of time took over from his brother and was active in politics - points out that through his sacrifice his brother "defeated the ideology of evil, giving hope to the country, ensuring compliance the weakest ".

After meeting several Pakistani bishops, Paul Bhatti says that "there is a very strong belief that Shahbaz should be declared a martyr. The best way to honor his memory - he adds – is to give rise to the cause of beatification. Especially for our young Christians who see, in his example, what it means to have faith, honor, put it into practice in everyday live, what it means to love people, even those who do not share your faith itself, to bring peace. "

Paul Bhatti tells of esteem received in recent days by Pakistani politicians (a personal letter to Bilawal Bhutto), Vatican prelates, including Cardinal Jean-Louis Tauran, who had a special bond with Shahbaz, as well as religious leaders and Muslim scholars . "They all told me - he says - that the memory of my brother is still alive and his sacrifice was not in vain and the country, albeit slowly, is changing. It will take time to defeat the radical ideology, but the first steps are being taken with great determination both in the government, the military and within the political parties. "

In confirmation of these small signs of change the firm statement of the President of the Islamic Ideology Council, Maualana Mohammad Sherani. Commenting on the huge crowd who attended the funeral of Mumtaz Qadri, Taseer's killer, he said that while he "respects the feelings" of the people "the supremacy of the Constitution and the law” is even more important which “no one can violate." Recently, the same Muslim religious leader had launched a proposal for a conference to discuss the blasphemy laws - so far a taboo in the country - and to evaluate any amendment to prevent abuses.

At this time, the diocese of Islamabad / Rawalpindi has claimed with "pride" the ability to call Shahbaz "son of our land" his sacrifices to devote his life to the cause of Christians, minorities , the country. Fr. Arif Bhatti, a priest in Khushpur, ensures that his sacrifice "was not in vain". Although the void left, especially among family members, remains huge: "I miss my brother’s love  - concludes Paul Bhatti - his smile, his strength ... he was for all of us support and a source of shelter."

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